Wednesday, June 1, 2011
A Game of Thrones: Volume one of A Song of Ice and Fire
So, as you folks probably know HBO started doing a TV adaptation of George R.R. Martin's High Fantasy Epic, A Song of Ice and Fire. The first volume of this series, Game of Thrones got a multi-million dollar budget and has gotten great reviews. So when Katie asked me if I wanted to read the books for the blog, I said, okay sure. Also, for those of you watching at home, word on the intertrons is that HBO's already renewed it so we should be seeing more High Fantasy epic in the future. Well, you will. I'll be reading, but I digress.
Hennyway, so to start with A Song of Ice and Fire is a High Fantasy Epic. Now I'm sure my two readers know what High Fantasy is, but for any of you who stumbled onto this blog post by mistake I'll explain. High Fantasy is a story much in the same vein as Lord of the Rings. We have kingdoms, knights, princesses, castles. Usually the plot of such novels involves a political conflict between multiple nations. Or in the case of Game of Thrones within the same nation. You're not going to be seeing a lot of magic, or as we call it Swords and Sorcery. However, the storytelling is superb and definitely shows promise.
Martin's saga reminds me a lot of books like Dune or Tolkein's writings. Martin works very hard to build up an elaborate backstory explaining the history and culture of the world he has built. Although it can be somewhat tedious to read through the backstory, as a historian I enjoy learning it. Just the sheer amount of work that goes into the world-building is truly impressive.
Although I am loathe to admit it, Martin's a really good storyteller. Bad things happen to characters. Really bad things. I'd tell you, but it ruins the plot of the book and that's just not fair because you will want to read it for yourself. The reason I can say Martin's a good storyteller is because I am outright mad at what happens to some of these characters. I hate characters, I love characters, I want to see characters succeed and fail. I get mad when bad people win and the good guys lose. Generally I don't get emotionally invested in books, stuff happens and I'm like, "Okay, that was bad or disappointing or cool." With Game of Thrones I got so mad I threw the book across the room. I had never done that before, that's how invested I got in these characters. I think it's a testimony to Martin's ability as a storyteller to get me invested in characters so heavily. Game of Thrones is a good first act, sets up the conflict, leaves us with great potential for future stories, and leaves us emotionally invested in heroes we want to succeed and villains we desperately hope fail.
Now, I should warn you the book is 800 pages long, and looking at the sequels they get longer. This is definitely a major investment of time and I could only read about 100 - 150 pages at a time. And I'm a crazy reader. Quite honestly you have to be a fan of High Fantasy and willing to read a doorstopper book. I'll be honest this series is not for everyone and I'm sure plenty of people could get bored and frustrated with the series and I can't blame you. But if you like this sort of story, you'll be well-rewarded.
I want to take a moment to mention the HBO series as well. I've seen some of the episodes, and I thought it was well-done. And from my friends who watch the series, they seem to like it too. The TV series differs in two important respects though. First, as a TV series a lot of stuff gets glossed over. Much like the Lord of the Rings movies, some stuff has got to be cut. And I'm willing to accept that. But from what I've seen of the TV series, I feel like I understand better from reading rather than just watching. I mean you get a fair idea of the plot but I feel there are little things you lose in translation. Secondly the smut. Oh by the Throne, the smut. This is, after all HBO, and we need boobs to keep people paying attention. To be fair, the book has its fair share of smut, but it's about half as much smut as you get in the HBO series. Now if you're someone like Katie who lives for smut, that's all well and fine. For me, I find it distracting more than anything else. I could rant on with my puritanical opinions but that's really besides the issue. If you're not a heavy reader like myself I think you'll enjoy the TV series. What it does, it does well and I can't really quibble over the finer points. I just happened to like the books better, but I'm a stickler like that. For those of you who would like to watch the HBO series it can be found, legally mind you, here on the webs.
Ultimately, as frustrated as I got with this book I want to read more. I'm really pulling for the Starks and Tullys and really hoping the Lannisters fail. Martin's storytelling sets up a complex world with interesting characters that is well worth the read if you're willing to invest it. I'll give it four sheep.
Adventurer's Rule #6: Never pick up a talking sword. Just don't. It never ends well.